Also published on the Golf Monthly Website
Let’s be honest, the general outlook for 2012 isn’t great. The economy is showing little, or no, sign of recovering; the ice caps are melting and the world’s population continues to grow at an exponential and increasingly unsustainable rate; the Republicans will probably win the US election; there will surely be more civil unrest across the Arab world, and possibly through Europe; we will continue to be governed by a bunch of nincompoops who don’t have the vaguest clue about how to sort the various economic, environmental and political problems we’re facing. The Mayans predicted the end of the world in December 2012… at least we’ve got that to look forward to.
No wait a minute, what about the world of golf? After all, Britain enjoyed unprecedented, if under-acknowledged, success in the sport through 2011. For golf lovers, the game provided a real beacon of light. Not just because of home glories either, but also because of Europe’s Solheim Cup victory (at least we can stay united with our European neighbours through golf,) Tiger’s potential return and the emergence of young talent like Alexis Thompson. It was truly exciting… Could 2012 possibly live up to those levels?
Here are a few predictions for the year:
Luke Donald to win the Masters – Before last year it was said, in fact I had written, that Luke Donald didn’t have the necessary length to win a Major championship. That when it came to the crunch he couldn’t compete when he was firing in with a 4-iron and the likes of Dustin Johnson were using 7 and 8-irons on the same holes.
Well, I think Donald has proved categorically with his performances across the world in 2011 that he does have what it takes to beat the very best in the world over some of the very longest courses. Donald made his debut at Augusta in 2005 where he finished tied for third. He was also tied for fourth last year, sneaking in somewhat under the radar during the final round as everyone was captivated, first by Tiger’s charge, then by Rory’s collapse finally by Schwartzel’s finish.
I think Donald’s game is ideally suited to Augusta – a layout that demands precise iron play and a deadly short game. He has, undoubtedly, found extra length over the past couple of seasons and Augusta is certainly not the longest track on the circuit.
Tiger Woods to win the Open – It’ll be 11 years since Royal Lytham and St Annes last welcomed the Open Championship. Back in 2001 it was David Duval who lifted the Claret Jug and earned the respect of the British golfing public with his humble and heartfelt winner’s speech. It could have been different had Woosie (or his caddy) spotted he had 15 clubs in his bag before he stood up on the first tee, but hey.
Tiger finished down in 25th in that event in what was a relatively disappointing year for him (just one Major title.) Well it’s now been three and a half years since Tiger last won a Major – the 2008 US Open – and I think this year we’ll see that hiatus come to an end. He is one of, if not the most, gifted player in the history of the game and, as he continues to get his head back into some semblance of order, he can surely return to near his best. He’s only just turned 36 remember. Ben Hogan won six of his nine Major titles beyond the age of 37.
A counter argument for Tiger winning at Lytham would be that he struggles on the more difficult Open courses. I’m not so sure he struggles any more than his rivals. He was tied for seventh at Carnoustie in 1999 and tied fourth at St George’s in 2003 – two of the very hardest layouts. And, Seve proved in 1979 that it’s possible to be a little wild around Lytham and still take the title.
The USA to win the Ryder Cup – I don’t necessarily see this as a negative prediction. I think it’s great for the event for it to be as competitive as it has in the last couple of contests. Although it was highly pleasing to watch Europe give the Americans such a pasting in 2004 and 2006, it didn’t make for so thrilling a spectacle as the “to-the-wire” win by Monty’s boys at Celtic Manor.
I think the younger generation of American stars will step up to the plate at Medinah and will prove, through their power and home advantage, to be too strong for Europe.
I think it should be a great match with the tables turned – Europe fielding the more experienced players and the US relying on fresh blood. I expect Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Gary Woodland and Rickie Fowler to make the side and be standout performers.
Rory McIlroy to reach Number 1 in the world – Yeah, ok this isn’t exactly putting my neck on the line. But, I think with his consistency and ability to totally outclass a field, it’s inevitable. I’ve said Donald will win the Masters and Tiger the Open, so what’s left for the young Ulsterman. Well, he could end up winning both those tournaments but I fancy his chances of defending the US Open. I also think he’ll begin to win more prolifically through 2012. For all his success, he’s actually won only two events on the European Tour and one on the PGA Tour, outside his US Open triumph. He’s now been a professional for four years – Tiger had won 24 PGA Tour events (including five Majors) after four years in the paid ranks. But Rory was a good deal younger than Tiger when he turned pro and has plenty of time to start notching up the wins. I think he’ll get four significant victories in 2012.
Other thoughts for the year include:
A player on the PGA Tour to finish the season with a driving distance average over 320 yards.
The debate on the long putter to turn nasty.
George Coetzee to finish in the top-10 on the Race to Dubai.
Sergio Garcia to win the WGC Matchplay.
Michele Wie to win a Major Championship (women’s.)
China to overtake the USA with more players in the top-100 of Rolex Women’s World Rankings.